Marriage Counseling, Increasing Marital Intimacy: Carol’s Story.

Carol’s heart was racing, literally. She thought it could be a heart attack, so she went to the emergency room. An MRI revealed no heart dysfunction, so her doctor diagnosed it as a panic attack. She came to therapy because she wanted to discover the underlying cause so she could heal the condition without drugs.

Session 1. Carol opened our first session by explaining her recent medical emergency and then announced, “Let me tell you what I think is really causing this. It’s my relationship with my husband!”

Scott had been angry with her for years. He was a plant manager for a multi-billion dollar corporation. They had attended marriage counseling for a short time years ago with another therapist, but the same pattern continued. Carol’s voice reeled with bitterness from years of unresolved conflicts. Her rapid-fire words launched missiles of pain and anger. Once she threatened to leave the marriage, but she had no job, so she stayed. He treated her with more respect after that, but they lived like roommates.

I explained, “Carol, if you want to heal this the quickest way possible, I need to see you and your husband together, not just you.  It takes two to tango. If you both learn the skills to create intimacy and resolve conflicts, you can have a successful marriage and your health will increase.”

“I don’t want Scott involved. He will feel so hurt.  I haven’t told him all the things I told you.”

I suggested, “Each of us is responsible for our own feelings. You need to express your truth in the kindest way possible, and let Scott be responsible for his own feelings. Your job is to accept responsibility for your emotions and reactions. You need to learn how to maintain your sense of self and simultaneously experience healthy connection. Your reactions to each other are the tip of the iceberg. These patterns started in childhood and they are exposed in your marriage. You both have a major opportunity to heal and grow.”

“I see what you mean. I want a happier marriage, and I want to be healthy. Those heart palpitations really scared me. I’ll ask him to attend a session, but I don’t think he will.”

Scott was a high-level executive in a Fortune 500 company, and he prided himself on fixing others problems. He did not like to ask for help.

Session 2. I placed a phone call to Scott, inviting him to join us. Miracles never cease.  He showed up at our second session.  I knew I had to gain his respect quickly or I would lose him.  Although I was a bit anxious to be in the presence of such a powerful leader, I realized that I instinctively knew how to work with this kind of man because I had grown up with one, my father.  I was able to combine just the right blend of intellect and emotional empathy. I acknowledged how difficult it might have been for him to come to see me, and that it might be difficult for him to trust me. I made good eye contact while conveying compassion. Feeling respected, he agreed to return for more sessions with his wife.

Before therapy, Carol had seen Scott as an insensitive business leader, caring more about accomplishing tasks than tending to their marriage. She did not think he would open up. But when I looked inside his heart, I saw the teddy bear hiding inside.

He confided to me, “I want to help Carol and our marriage, but I do not think I can. I promised him that I could help him learn the needed skills.

Session 3. Scott’s Background:  Scott’s parents expected excellence, and he produced it. There was little emotional connection or physical affection between his parents, or between his parents and him. Scott sent his feelings underground. He graduated top of his class in high school and in college. He held executive level jobs and worked long hard hours.  He played the trumpet from age 9 to 24, and he was a member of an elite college band, yet he reported, “I’m not a real musician because I cannot play requests at a moment’s notice.”

Carol was an accomplished artist, writer and poet. She grew up with parents who were emotionally distant, too.  She learned to be tough, perfect, and to ignore her own needs. She was stoic, angry, and critical of Scott.  I wondered what held these two together. I looked for the best place to intervene.

I offered, “Scott, I know you see yourself as a left-brained engineer-type, but my assessment shows that you are primarily right brain dominant.  I think your true nature is to be relationship-oriented, creative, philosophical and spiritual. I know you are very smart, but underneath your stoicism, I see a kind-hearted teddy bear. What do you think of that?”

He looked perplexed. I sensed he wanted my help to let his soft side emerge, although he did not say so at the time. He had to think about it, and I gave him time.

Session 4.  I taught them standard communication skills. (1) Listening skills which include paraphrasing your partner’s message, empathizing and validating.   (2) “I messages” to convey your own experience as follows:

“I feel _______ (Describe your emotion and take responsibility for it.)

when you __________ (Share a non-blameful description of your partner’s behavior.)

because  _________  (Describe the tangible effect on you if there is one.)

Make a request for behavior change that will help you.

Scott sat in the rocking chair, and Carol perched on the sofa across from him.  Carol timidly shared, “I don’t want to hurt you.”

He returned her gaze with big puppy dog eyes. He wanted to understand her and felt anguish because of her pain. His hardened intellect melted into compassion.

Carol offered her “I message” cautiously, not wanting to arouse his anger. “I feel anxious before you come home every night.  I don’t know what mood you will be in, and I get so scared when you are angry. I never know what to expect.”

He continued to gaze at her, surprised but wanting to know more.

“Carol, tell him how you feel in your body,” I prompted. She held her breath. Her chest tightened. The back of her shoulders braced, and her jaws clenched.

“Oh, my head hurts!” she exclaimed.  “Oh, it really hurts!”

The familiar emotions and sensations she stuffed for years rose to the surface. This time, she felt safe enough to express them to Scott, but she was still scared.

“Carol, breathe. You can do this. Breathe.”  I coaxed.  She took some deep breaths.

I thought to myself: If I continue to sit in my chair several feet away, she will express herself superficially. But if I sit next to her, she will feel supported enough to go all the way into the feelings and sensations, and she will heal more completely as I engage Scott’s compassion.

I said to Carol, “I’m going to sit right beside you and support you. Is that OK with you, and may I touch you?”

“Yes.”  She willingly accepted the invitation.

I placed one hand on her upper back to help her body feel safe.

“Breathe, Carol, breathe.”  She was afraid to feel the pain, and to reveal it to Scott.

“Oh, the pain!”  She held the right side of her head.

“Breathe,” I said in a low, reassuring voice. “Just breathe and feel.”

“I am not supposed to feel weak.  I’m supposed to be tough and have it all together,” she retorted.

I held my hand steady on her body.  She breathed a little more and allowed herself to feel scared.

Looking at her husband, she said, “I don’t want you to feel hurt.  You have to go back to work after this.”

I intervened, “Carol, highly sensitive people like you feel what others feel. Let him have his own feelings and let him be responsible for himself.  He can handle this.”  She brought her attention back into her own body. She placed her attention under my hand that was still supporting her back.

This time, with more feeling in her voice, she said to him, “I get so scared when I don’t know how you’ll treat me when you come home.  It really bothers me.”

He practiced empathy. “I see how scared you get. I had no idea. I can see how you would feel that way.” Then he added, “I am so sorry for your pain, and I will try to stop that behavior so you don’t hurt.” His sad puppy dog eyes revealed his aching heart.

“It helps me so much to see you looking at me with soft eyes. I feel safe now,” she whispered with appreciation.

My steady hand helped her shift the energy in her chest.  She was able to breathe easier and deeper.

“How’s your headache, Carol?”

“It’s gone!  It’s gone!” she exclaimed.

She jumped up and gave Scott a big hug.  “Thank you so much for understanding. It means so much to me!”  Tears glistened in her eyes.

He received her hug and returned it. (I knew he was a teddy bear in disguise.)

Turning to me, he said, “I feel so inadequate to do the right thing to help her. I really want her to be happy.”

“I know. You can learn the skills.  Remember all those years you practiced the trumpet?  How many years did it take for you to become good?  How many years have you been married?” He was putting the whole thing in perspective.

“You know how to practice and become masterful. After a year or two you will have these skills down pat.  But just like with the trumpet, if you want to be really good, you will have to practice for years, not because you have to, but because you want to become masterful at intimacy with your wife. You can do this,” I affirmed.

Scott saw the bigger picture.  He could not know all the lessons that would lie ahead, but he had hope, and he trusted me to show him the way.

Carol had more courage and confidence to share her feelings with Scott so he could support her. She learned to give him specific requests, instead of throwing out complaints that felt like bombs. He learned to feel his emotions and reveal more of himself.

“Practice these skills,” I encouraged them before they left, “and you will become masters.”

Follow-up Sessions. They attended sessions together for one year. Sometimes Carol attended alone where I helped her heal emotional wounds from childhood. When I checked with them four years later, they were happy. They continued to use their skills. Carol’s self-esteem glowed as she told me about how delighted she was in her career. She rented space in an artist studio where she socialized with creative, out-of-the-box people, just like herself. Life was good!

Your Reflections

1) When you hold in your emotions, where do you feel aches and pains?

2) In what ways do your coping behaviors help you live a healthy life?

3) How do your coping behaviors diminish your health, and intimacy in your significant relationships?

I use Gottman Method Couples Therapy and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy by Dr. Sue Johnson.

About the Author: As a Psychotherapist, Benita A. Esposito, MA, LPC combines a master’s degree in psychology and 4 decades of career wisdom. Combining her intuitive ability to understand people at depth with classical training, she gets to the bottom line quickly so people can efficiently resolve challenges and move into their full potential. Benita facilitates people to develop and sustain flourishing personal and business relationships rooted in The Authentic Self.


Click here to Contact Benita Esposito for a complementary 10-minute phone get-acquainted visit. Or call 770.998.6642.

(Clients names were changed to preserve confidentiality.)

Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved.  The Esposito Institute, Inc.


Stress Management Workshop

Stressed WomanAre you a conscientious worker but you’re tired because there aren’t enough hours in the day to get your work done? Do you have trouble balancing the demands of your job with caring for your loved ones? Is stress taking a toll on your health and coping ability? Do conflicts wear you down?

Stress and Productivity Statistics
Approximately 40% to 50% of all adult workers experience the negative effects of stress (American Psychological Association, 1997).

Consequences of Workplace Stress

1. Absenteeism, turnover and diminished productivity
2. Substance abuse
3. Anxiety, depression and accidents

You’ll learn 4 Stress Management Tools to Help You Feel Better Immediately.

(1) Explore beliefs that either increase or decrease stress.

(2) Breathing exercises to calm your mind and body.

(3) Learn the single most important thing that will help you create work/life balance.

(4) Take breaks so you don’t get burned out.

Olympics athletes do these things. We should, too.

When and Where: Call to schedule a customized workshop or speech for your organization.

Facilitator: Benita A. Esposito, MA is a Licensed Professional Counselor. Office: 48 Haralson Place, Suite, Blairsville, GA 30512. For details about Benita’s work, read the articles at

Stress Management Radio Show WJUL 9Aug12 Pam Roman, Director of Clay County Chamber of Commerce and Tim Rose, Manager of WJUL Radio in Hiawassee, Georgia interviewed Benita A. Esposito, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor.

 * * *

Benita A. Esposito, MA,Licensed Professional Counselor has 2 Offices: Atlanta and Blairsville, Georgia. Life coaching is available worldwide via the phone and skype.

Life Coaching:

Specialties: Marriage and Couples Counseling, Pre-marital Counseling, Divorce Adjustment, Success Skills, Eliminating Self-defeating Patterns, Stress Management, Anxiety, Healing the Emotional Roots of Disease, Depression, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Bipolar Disorder.

Services: Corporate Wellness Workshops, Psychotherapy, Life Coaching, Speaking Engagements, Intensive Retreats


Newsletter July 2012: Why Retreats are So Effective.

I know your path is not always easy. I know you are intelligent, conscientious, and you have a big heart. I know you are courageous. Every time you take a step toward your goals, every time you speak up for yourself, every time you extend compassion to yourself or someone else, I applaud you.

Part of me cries when my you cry. Part of me aches when you feel stuck.  Part of me wails my tigress roar when people mistreat  you or neglect your needs. You are not alone. We are in this life together, connected through the web of humanity.

I’d like to tell you a little about my own transformational journey in the article below. I have struggled with some of the same issues you have, and I’ve grown and healed. I hope my story inspires you.

I’d also like to invite you to our Beach Retreat: “Your Authentic Self: Create the Life of Your Dreams” September 13-17, 2012. You’ll find several links at the end of the newsletter which will give you a fuller picture.

My Transformational Journey: An Overview

When I was doing my heavy-duty inner healing work in the 70’s and 80’s, there were two things that made the biggest difference for me:  (1) having 2 long-term teachers I trusted and (2) attending multi-day retreats. My teachers saw dynamics in me that I couldn’t begin to understand, let alone heal. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their help.

In order to break free of my past programming and the emotional wounding that held patterns in place, I had to go deep, real deep. I would never have gone there without my teachers. I had to trust them to take me into the unknown. I soaked in their love for me, and because of that I felt safe enough to let go and explore my inner wilderness. Sometimes I challenged them, and they were strong enough to let me ask tons of questions.

The toughest thing was for me to drop down into my emotions and my body, and stop being so intellectual. I had to learn how to get in touch with emotions and stay fully present in my body. That can only be learned experientially, not from reading a book.

I was willing to do that in retreats because I had enough time to pussy-foot around, and stick my toe in the proverbial water. I watched other people as they were coached by my teachers, and I learned vicariously before I asked for healing. I had plenty of time to deal with my anxiety instead of shrinking back. I was scared of the unknown, but I didn’t let it stop me because I saw other people making major breakthroughs. They’d come out smiling, even radiant.

I knew I was playing too small in my life. I felt God prompting me to unfold more of my divine blueprint.  Private counseling sessions were great, weekly groups were wonderful, but my biggest changes occurred at retreats because we had three full days to go deep. “Deep” is what I needed.

What About You?

Are you feeling an inner prompting to go deeper like I did?  Do you have a sense that God designed a blue print uniquely for you, and you want to fulfill it?  Are you feeling the need to break out of the patterns that have kept you stuck?  In my mind’s eye I see the picture of a chick tap, tap, tapping from the inside of the shell, and finally breaking it open. It is the beginning of its new life. I really want this for you, and that’s why I am writing to you today. I want you to break free.

Personally, I love to lead retreats more than any of the work I do because of the deep bonding we experience over three days and the remarkable changes that occur.

To view the current list of Retreats, click here.

If you feel your spirit urging you to explore these opportunities, please contact me now to arrange a complementary phone interview.  Phone 770.998.6642.  Or email me at Tell me 3 good times to speak with you, and I’ll do my best to match one.

The tuition increases on August 1, 2012 so register early to receive a discount.  Final decisions for enrollment must be made by mid-August. There are pre-requisites to complete so if you are interested, it is important to contact me now to see if this is a good fit for you.

Links to Retreat Stories

1)    If you’d like to read about one of the first times I participated in a retreat and how I learned to be vulnerable in public, click here.

2)    To read a story about how I facilitated a client’s healing trauma in a retreat, click here.

3)    To read about a participant’s reflections after a Retreat, click here: Topic: The holy connection between body and spirit.

4)    Click here to read details, testimonials and logistics for our September 2012 Annual Beach Retreat: “Your Authentic Self: Create the Life of Your Dreams”

5) To read about Breathwork combined with our Lake Lanier Yacht Retreat with amazing Nature and animal stories, click here.

Author and Facilitator:

Benita A. Esposito, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor

The Esposito Institute, Inc.  / Counseling and Life Coaching

 2 Offices

  1. 48 Haralson Place, Suite 3, Blairsville, GA 30512
  2. 3188 Atlanta Road, SE, Smyrna, GA 30080

Psychotherapy Website:

Life Coaching via telephone and Skype, blog:

Specialties: Marriage counseling, divorce, emotional roots of disease, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, grief, bipolar disorders and success skills. Combining intuition and evidence-based practices, Benita gets to the bottom line quickly to help clients create flourishing personal and professional lives. Psychotherapy is available in Blairsville and Atlanta. Life coaching for high achievers is available worldwide via telephone and skype. Retreats are facilitated by Benita A. Esposito as spiritual therapy which includes hands-on-healing. Benita is an ordained minister with the AIWP.



Radio: Benita Esposito’s Work

Listen to Benita Esposito speak about the benefits of psychotherapy and life coaching for S.M.A.R.T.* Women and the Men Who Love Them.

Services: Couples Counseling, Marriage Counseling and Counseling for Individual Adults.

Click here for Podcasts.

S.M.A.R.T. = Spiritual, Mature, Authentic, Responsible and Trustworthy

Complete the Contact Form to request a 10-minute complementary phone interview to see if my services are right for you.

Credentials for Benita A. Esposito, MA, LPC